Michael Joseph Book 2017
An unnamed defendant stands accused of murder.
Just before the Closing Speeches, the young man sacks his lawyer and decides to give his own defence.
He says that his barrister told him to leave some things out. Sometimes, the truth can be too difficult to explain, or believe. But if he’s about to go down for life, he wants to go down telling the truth.
As he talks us through the evidence against him, his life is in our hands. We, the reader – member of the jury – must keep an open mind till we’ve heard his story.
HIs defence raises many questions… but at the end of the speeches, only one matters:
Did he do it?
An interesting and original premise, this book is a man telling his story in the form of a closing speech in court where he is on trial for murder. Incredibly thought provoking this story raises many moral questions, not least is murder ever justified? Clearly that’s not a debate for here, but I think what this book is exploring is the notion of, ‘if you haven’t lived my life, how can you judge what I have done.’ The person being judged in this case is a young black male in a country where a disproportionate number of young black males are in prison and despite having a judicial system whereby a person is judged by 12 of their peers, is this really the case when you factor in race, class, poverty etc?
The unnamed man tells his story in his own words, indeed in his own language, having sacked his defence lawyer immediately prior to the closing speeches. Adopting slang and local dialect, this both highlights the gap between the accused and the jury ( the reader) but also presents a challenge in terms of authenticity of the ever changing language of the street. For me it worked and illuminated the usual need in court for the defendant to be represented, to have someone speak for them in the common language of the court, in order to achieve the best possible outcome. My cynical me felt this would never happen in a court of law, in terms of the length of the speech and the language used, but I was able to put this to one side because that wasn’t the story being told.
The ending is open, there is no verdict, so it is left for the reader to decide. I often prefer a tidy conclusion but really with this book it didn’t matter, it didn’t change the story. Because this is a book about inequality and difference and trying to understand these differences rather than knowing the statistics. It isn’t a difficult read, but does contain some detail of the harsh realities of gang life, it is an important read and one that I am recommending.
About the Author
Imran Mahmood is a criminal defence barrister with over twenty years experience in the Crown Court and Court of Appeal. he specializes in Legal Aid cases involving crimes such as murder and other serious violence, as well as fraud and sexual offences. He was born in Liverpool and now lives in London with his wife and daughter.